An independent professional in my network recommended I watch a talk by Mike Monteiro called “F*ck You, Pay Me” when I asked for advice on contracts and client relations. Whether you’re freelancing, consulting, part-time, or full-time, the advice given applies to any contract you sign related to your professional skills. Below is a summary of the video and I’ll also cover how this can apply to a full-time position.
I interviewed for a job and got an offer. I only learned the terms of the offer a week into the job. Maybe “job” is a strong word since I also wasn’t getting paid.
A recruiter and I start talking and decide I’ll interview for a position. The phone screen goes well. The in person interview goes well. The recruiter tells me they are putting together an offer and I dedicate the rest of my mental energy trying to decide whether I want the job or not.
The recruiter is part of one of those third party recruiting companies. Normally this would be a “bad recruiter” but this time we became sort of friends. The fact that neither of us worked for the company trying to hire me was actually a bond rather than a divide after this mess.
The day I interviewed was the 26th of a random month in the year, say December. On the 3rd of the following month, January, I was leaving the country for a 2 week long trip.
Make Me An Offer
On the 28th, two days after my interview, I was called up by the third-party recruiter to tell me they loved me and wanted to extend an offer (her words, not mine). They appeared willing to meet all of my unorthodox demands, like part time hours and flexible vacation. All I needed was the HR department to extend the official offer.
Both parties were aware of my upcoming vacation and assured me the offer would come in on the 1st of January, 3 days before my departure. Just one thing: I needed to apply to the position officially through their Workday site. Workday, like every other HR related software solution, is no fun to use. Whatever, I can jump through hoops, I thought. Even hoops where I’m given a random string of numbers as my user name. Thanks Workday.
According to the company HR contact, my application via Workday would cause a cascade of recruitment dominoes, triggering NDAs, pay set up, offer details, and various other employment necessities. With my application done, I narrowed down my list of things to negotiate depending on the offer details and waited.
Your Offer Got Lost In The Intranet
As the days passed and my suitcase was getting packed for my trip, I suspected I should have my offer but didn’t. I emailed the third-party recruiter for an update. You might wonder why I was still talking to the recruiter. Why wasn’t I talking directly to the HR contact? The answer is simple: I was never put in touch with the HR department. My only conduit to the Borg was via this recruiter. Luckily, we enjoyed working together and continued to bond over how dysfunctional the company was.
Back on track: the recruiter responded in less than 5 min with minimal punctuation that this was not okay and I should have had my offer days ago. At least I knew they didn’t secretly change their mind and ghost me. This triggered an investigation on the HR side to figure out where my offer was and why I didn’t have it.
A Canary Can’t Fail If There Are No Canaries
Background: a “canary” is a software term to describe a simple test or check to show something is working, at least basically. It comes from the phrase “canary in a coal mine.”
As I was on my cross-continental flights to a tropical paradise, the recruiting and offer debacle was beginning to unravel. The first hitch: most of the HR department was out of the office on a retreat or conference out of town so they weren’t as available to respond to candidates requesting their offers or third party recruiters trying to figure out where the offers were. The second hitch: the IT department decided the best time to migrate to a brand new HR system (i.e. Workday) is the week that the HR department is out of the office and not around to detect errors.
The message routed to me via the recruiter: “We just migrated to Workday and something went wrong so we aren’t sure where your offer is.” I requested they send a PDF version so I could at least review legal terminology, employment restrictions, and negotiate sooner rather than later. This seemed reasonable to me and my recruiter friend so we waited with the expectation that this offer would come along in an hour or two.
Do You Really Need An Offer?
By this point I’d already decided my trip was more important than the offer and proceeded enjoy the tropics. Every once in a while I’d ping the recruiter for an update on the offer that hadn’t come in and she’d say she didn’t know what the hold up was. This went on for a few days, bringing us to the 8th of January, a week after I was supposed to have my offer.
The HR contact, now in a long and confusing email thread with me and my recruiter, sent me my “offer”: a number describing my pay along with a annual bonus tier. I mean, I guess that’s a offer, in a sense. However, a job is more than pay. What about moonlighting policies? At will employment? Vacation? Health benefits? Anything? At this point I still had my wish list of negotiation points but nothing to negotiate against.
My recruiter and I chatted over a call when I had reliable Wi-Fi and agreed this wasn’t much of an offer in terms of details. There wasn’t even anything to sign, no legal agreement laid out. I discussed with her my negotiation criteria and she said she’d make it happen. She thanked me for my patience, responsiveness, and lack of complaint while the company was unresponsive, off track, and generally a mess.
I Could Be A Murderer
During the last days of my vacation, around the 18th of January, we agreed that I would start on the 30th of January. This seemed fine. I spent some time in limbo until the 25th when I realized I hadn’t been asked to do a background check. Who in the world is going to ask for a background check? People who are paranoid and want to make sure they aren’t immediately ejected from a new job because of an HR mix up.
I gently reminded HR that my start date was less than a week away and was there a criminal background check I needed to fill out? Response: Well, shit, you mean you didn’t get it already? I guess we have to manually trigger that Workday workflow and since none of us know how Workday works, it will take a few days.
Background checks can take up to two weeks and this was 5 days before my start date. I mean, I don’t mind if you don’t do a background check. I also don’t mind if you push my start date back. Could you just get your shit together?
Am I In The Right Place?
After the vacation ended, a sort of verbal agreement fell into place about my offer. I had given my start date and it seemed to be on track. Except for one thing: why hadn’t I signed an employment agreement? I’m not saying I like signing things but every other employer had one that outlined all the ways I could be fired immediately. Or sued. Or burned at the stake. It seemed important.
Right up until the day before I started, we still hadn’t figure out whether I needed to sign something or not. The HR department claimed I had accepted my offer in “the system” and I maintained that I had never signed a thing, though I’d be happy to do so once something came my way. As it turns out, the system had a few more problems.
When I started, they expected me the week after. That just meant that I had to fill out real paperwork for proof of eligibility of employment instead of the digital versions I was supposed to have gotten a week before I started. No big deal.
Oh, and you won’t be able to access any of your benefits. Hold on: I haven’t signed an offer, I’m not technically active in your system, and I have no benefits. Is this volunteer work or employment?
It’s just the new system, don’t worry about it.
My second day of work, the HR department set up a meeting with me and my manager to discuss my strange obsession with the lack of employment agreement. I told them I develop software outside of work and wanted a guarantee that there would be no legal intellectual property infringement or that my software wouldn’t default to their ownership. The answer: “We have no such restrictions here and never have. Even if we did have them, we wouldn’t pursue them.”
Uh-huh. I didn’t believe it but couldn’t do anything about it. Well, on the plus side, I still hadn’t technically signed anything so I’m fine. Right?
Welcome to Company X
I’d decided to let go of this “signing a contract” business and move on. Until my second week. Workday blasted me with an email storm about all this legal bullshit I needed to sign. You are restricted in the software you develop outside of work. You will be immediately terminated on violation of the following work policies. You must fill out proof of employment. You can’t drink at work. All those signature requests finally came in, a week after I started.
I was pissed off. What kind of HR department doesn’t know the legal bindings of an employment at their company? And directly contradicts them? All I could do was send a passive aggressive email to HR and my manager explaining to them how there were legal documents I needed to sign and I likely didn’t see them because of the incompetence of HR and the poorly timed migration to Workday. Boo.
Finally, all this offer, recruitment, and legal agreement stuff is put aside and I got down to work. One, then two, then three weeks went by and I was getting the hang of things. Everything seemed fine. Until I got a few credit card bills and went to check my bank account where I had set up direct deposit pay. No money. Okay, maybe I hadn’t been here for a full pay period yet.
I checked the pay schedule on the HR site, which was a rabbit hole adventure through SharePoint, Workday, ServiceNow, and custom internal sites. It looked like I was due pay for 2 pay periods, almost 3. Huh. Well, it looks like I’m not getting paid.
I sent a message to the HR department through their online ticketing system and got this response back: “Your paycheck will be in the store.”
Background: This job was in the technology department of a retail company with several physical stores. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don’t work in a store. Either way, this begged the question: if I don’t work in a store, where is my paycheck?
What about the mail room? Surely, if they said “store” maybe it just meant “employee location”. I went up and down the building floors in search of something that looked like a mail room. I found something like it near the IT department but I don’t think they even knew of me in the system. At this point, that’s not surprising.
Finally, with a week gone by of me searching for my paychecks, I went to my manager.
Manager: Are you okay if we cancel today’s 1:1?
Me: Sure, there was just one thing I wanted to ask you about though.
Me: I’m not getting paid…
Manager: What!? We are getting to the bottom of this right now!
*Walk to the team Admin*
Manager: Hi Admin, we have a bit of a problem *looks at me*
Me: I’m not getting paid.
Admin: Oh my God! That’s awful!
Manager: Do you know anything about that?
Admin: I don’t really handle pay or anything. You’d have to talk to HR *turns to neighbor* Have you heard anything like this?
Neighbor: What is the problem?
Me: I’m not getting paid… I mean, I set up direct deposit over a month ago and I haven’t received anything.
Neighbor: Oh… you know, when I joined a year ago they sent my first few checks to the reception desk. Nobody told me about it and it took a while to find where they went. It might be worth checking there.
Manager and Admin: What? Why would they do that and not tell anyone?
Me: Well, I’ll go check and if not, we can escalate to HR.
In retrospect, this whole interaction was a little funny. How many times had I said “I’m not getting paid?” and it seemed like my coworkers were genuinely concerned about this problem. I went to the reception desk on another nondescript floor of my office building and asked if they had any mail for me. Voilà: there were all my employment checks, ready to be dropped into my bank account and swiftly redirected to pay my credit card bills.
By the end of all this, I was finally getting paid, I knew the legal parameters to my employment, and I had a firm distrust of HR and related software systems.
What I Learned?
- There is always a legal contract to sign that should be presented before employment no matter what HR and related systems tells you
- Always check your first pay period and verify you get your pay instead of waiting and draining your savings to cover bills your pay should have been covering
- Dealing with incompetence creates a bond through struggle, even with a recruiter
I had told my manager and his manager (my skip manager*) that I was quitting. I gave them a date and they told me to sit tight while they hash out the details with HR. I gave them a date 1 month out and described the work I intended to complete during that time. I was anxiously awaiting their verdict. I got the impression they might require that I leave immediately, which would incur a significant financial penalty to me due to the terms of the work contract.
Meanwhile, the team brain trust (my skip manager and a senior engineer) had been planning an all day team offsite to craft our road map (i.e. be told what we should do). This was to build hype for our technical challenges and build team cohesion. Also, there would be free lunch.
Timeline: I told my managers I was leaving on Friday. The team offsite was on the following Tuesday. We were asked for our lunch selection on the previous Wednesday.
Conversation 1: Direct Manager
Timeline: Monday, the day of nail-biting anxiety over whether I’d be asked to leave immediately
Manager: We had the discussion with Skip Manager and HR.
Manager: Well, you can leave whenever you want and you will keep getting paid until next month. You won’t have to pay back the $X for breaking the contract.
Me: That’s amazing! I didn’t even realize that was an option.
Manager: I was surprised to. About the offsite though: I think Skip Manager is going to talk to you and encourage you not to go.
Me: I guess that’s his decision but why? Wouldn’t that be unsettling to the rest of the team?
Manager: Well, he says it’s to give you an extra day off since you won’t be involved in it but it might be because he doesn’t want your interference. He’s very concerned about any morale impact it might have on the team.
Me: Okay… so, what is he going to tell the team? And wouldn’t be suddenly not being there be more of a morale impact?
Manager: We’re not going to tell the team you are leaving until next week so I don’t know what he’ll tell them.
Me: Overall this is good though that offsite thing is weird. Thank you for your help.
That went really well for the quitting part. I personally felt I would be able to help the junior engineers on my team with brainstorming during the offsite but it’s not my circus anymore. Still, Skip Manager’s choice seemed more morale damaging than having me there.
Conversation 2: Skip Manager
Timeline: Later Monday
Skip Manager: As you know, we’ve discussed your departure.
Me: Yes, Manager mentioned that.
Skip Manager: Glad to hear that. Anyway, about the offsite: why don’t you take that day off? It’s not going to be relevant for you after all.
Me: If you think that’s best. I would be happy to contribute my experience from past work or not if you’d prefer.
Skip Manager: Great, so what will you tell the team why you aren’t going?
Me: Um… I could say I’m sick?
Skip Manager: No, I don’t want you to lie.
Me: Er… okay… I have to go see the doctor and since I will have the time I can bump my appointment up.
Skip Manger: Great, go with that. Bye.
Recap: Skip Manager gives me less than 24 hours to come up with a reason why I suddenly can’t come to work tomorrow that isn’t a lie because he decided I shouldn’t go to his stupid planning party. Oh, and make sure it doesn’t give away that you’re leaving. And who’s going to eat my BLTA?
Conversation 3: The White Lie
Timeline: Tuesday, day of The Offsite
I just found out that there’s an opening at my podiatrist’s office tomorrow and I’ve been waiting a few weeks to see him. Since it’s midday and may take a while to do x-rays, I will have to miss the offsite. Have fun and I look forward to the great ideas coming out of it!
This wasn’t a complete lie since I did have to go to the podiatrist to get fitted for some foot related problem. They weren’t sure if they’d need to x-ray. It didn’t have to be Tuesday though. It also took 30 min. Still not a complete lie.
Conversation 4: Human Resources Lady
Timeline: The Friday after The Offsite
Me: Thank you for all your help with negotiating me leaving the company!
HR Lady: No problem, I was happy to help… by the way, how did the conversation go with your managers?
Me: Well, Manager was pretty clear about it and made sure I had some choice in when I left. I wanted to stay a bit to make sure I didn’t leave anyone with garbage to deal with.
HR Lady: Yes, he mentioned he expected that from you. What about Skip Mansger?
Me: Manager gave me a heads up but Skip Manager asked me not to go to a team offsite, which is fine, but I really didn’t like that he asked me to make up a reason the day before why I couldn’t go.
HR Lady: *tsk*, I told him I recommended he not do that. He asked you to come up with the reason? *shakes head*
Me: He also asked me not to lie and I managed to come up with something reasonably truthful but I didn’t like cleaning up his mess. Still, if that’s the worst of it, I’m happy with how this turned out.
HR Lady: I’m glad it worked out and feel free to reach out if you need anything.
Even HR thinks Skip Manager is a little crazy. That makes 3 of us (HR, Manager, and myself). By the way, I gave the HR Lady a gift basket to show my appreciation. I like to reinforce good behavior.
Things I didn’t do that were suggested:
- Instead of making up a white lie, tell my coworkers that I’m leaving and Skip Manager banned me from the offsite
- Send the “can’t make it” email but attend anyway
- Refuse to not attend
Since I had been generously offered pay without having to work, I considered being the scapegoat for Skip Manager’s convenience a fair trade-off.
What did I learn from this?
- Managers don’t have to listen to HR and HR gets irritated about that too
- Sometimes managers can’t find a good rationalization so they make you do it
- I will never know who got my BLTA
*A skip manager refers to your managers manager. Also known as: senior manager, grandfather manager
This series of posts are descriptions of my experiences working in tech that I hope will help you learn or at least help me commiserate with the world.
It was the first week on a new job and I was still learning the ropes. I was flooded with new information, new people, and new rules. By the time I got to the end of the week, I was getting to the end of my rope. Near the end of Friday, my manager asked me to log my hours. I have never had to log my hours. I overreacted and said I refused to do it. It was against my values. I was being paid a salary. Doesn’t the company value me?
I later apologized to my manager and began writing a script to automate logging my hours. However, that wasn’t the end of it because my overreaction was overheard. One of my more seasoned coworkers pulled me aside into a conference room and gave me a talking to. It went along the lines of this:
Coworker (CW): I overheard you talking to our manager about logging time sheets. I agree it’s a really dumb thing but you know they don’t even look at the numbers. Just log the time sheets and don’t cause trouble. I know it’s hard adjusting. If you keep your head down and just observe for a few months it will get better.
Me: Hold on, our CEO just said we’re investing in becoming a top tech company. Shouldn’t we be investing more in automating away these types of things?
CW: I know what you’re saying. This may sound a little racist but what do you expect from an organization run by a Jew?
Me: … I see?
Hold. The. Phone. WHAT?! What do you even do in that situation?
I chose not to immediately react because I really didn’t know this person or the company that well. The next week though, I did reach out to HR and describe this circumstance to them. They told me to talk to my manager:
Me: Hey Manager, I wanted to talk to you about a concerning interaction with a teammate?
Manager (MG): Alright.
Me: I was talking to him about how I felt we could be doing more to invest in the technical advancement of the company and then he said [quote from above].
MG: Woah… that can’t be right. You must have misunderstood him.
Me: No, I definitely didn’t misunderstand him. He introduced that with “this may sound a little racist”. He definitely knew what he was saying.
MG: Well, what do you want me to do about it?
That didn’t go as I thought it would. A manager that immediately calls you a liar and then passes the buck on to you? Needless to say, he lost a lot of my trust that day. It’s okay though, HR had my back and coached me on how to confront my coworker directly. So, the following week, I came up with some random excuse to talk to the coworker in private about what he had said:
Me: Hey CW, there was something I wanted to talk to you about that worried me a little. You said this thing a while ago and I know you meant it as a casual comment but it could easily be taken offensively in the workplace.
CW: What are you talking about?
Me: Well, it was [this date] and you made an anti-Semitic comment when we were talking about time sheets.
CW: Oh, now I remember. Wait… you’re not Jewish are you? You don’t look Jewish because if I thought you were I wouldn’t have said it.
Me: No, I’m not Jewish.
CW: Good, good…
Me: Anyway, I understood what you meant to convey but if you had said something like that in a group it wouldn’t have been very good.
CW: Ah, I see what you are saying. Thank you for letting me know. Honestly, in my home country these things aren’t considered offensive so it slipped my mind. You know, my mother calls black people n***** all the time.
Me: … of course we have our own cultural idiosyncrasies.
CW: I’m glad you told me and I hope you let me know if I do anything else like that.
Overall that went pretty well. He accepted responsibility and we built a strange racism watch relationship. On the other hand, I will never be his friend and didn’t want to interact with him any more than I had to. I reported back to HR on how this went. They were not happy that he was clearly aware and not only that, he even went on digging himself into his racist little hole.
The outcome: HR asked if I’d like to proceed with a formal investigation. I declined because I didn’t want to upset the team balance. HR asked if I’d be okay with an investigation after I left the company. I agreed to that. I don’t know what happened beyond that. It didn’t come up again.
What I learned:
- If you stay calm and plan out your approach, you can get a non-confrontational outcome in a sensitive situation
- Contacting both HR and your manager is a good call since your manager may not be on your side
- Even if a company claims diversity and inclusions as their values, it might be a work in progress
Why the title: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tales_from_the_Cryptkeeper